Our Documentary ‘Not By Choice’ is about Tim Webster. He is a farmer based in North Yorkshire in England who, like many farmers across the UK, shoots animals which threaten to destroy his crops and produce.
The intention of the film is that it provides the perspective of an ordinary British farmer, who has to make ends meet like the rest of us against a background of public negativity and scrutiny. While the act of killing animals of any kind is largely labelled as harmful and inhumane in mainstream media because of the method of shooting and its connotations (e.g. the UK fox hunting, fox hunting ban), it is in many ways beneficial and necessary according to Tim, with crop destruction and animal overpopulation being the key points he mentioned. Tim isn’t a gratuitous killer of small animals like some may assume him to be. He is an ordinary man he has a family, friends, pets and a job. This is essentially the premise for ‘Not By Choice’.
The documentary may indirectly inform the viewers on what he as a farmer would do to deal with this situation among other things, but it is largely based Tim’s own opinions and values meaning in the end it should leave the audience the option to form their own opinions once they have viewed it from Tim’s point of view. We aimed to be unbiased, but offer a view from the perspective a farmer who doesn’t advocate or enjoy shooting, contrary to popular belief.
‘No Choice’ is of the expository mode of Documentary. It overlays the imagery of the character/subject with the voice of the character with the intention of establishing a connection between the two, showing what is being said is embedded in reality. For example in the part of the documentary where Tim is sharing an anecdote about fleets of voracious pigeons ravaging acres and acres of a neighbouring farms land, (we couldn’t recreate the scene because we can’t force the pigeons to feed) we overlaid images of Tim shooting his shotgun in a field to give the audience a sense of what it would be like had they witnessed it themselves.
We chose to do an expository Documentary as we believe it best suited the subject matter and would be the most impactful in this mode. The focus was around delivering the perspective of character to the audience, and using him as a voice of god narrator and the focal point of the imagery seemed like the best way to do so. I personally would have liked to have been a bit more creative with the documentaries form but we struggled to come up with something that made sense and agreed ‘expository’ was the most suitable and impactful mode for this narrative.
Originally it was my proposal and screen test that was going to be progressed into production but I decided to diverge to Alex’s proposal as I believe it had a richer subject matter with more potential in terms of narrative, as well a more scenic and evocative shooting location with the 800 acre farm as opposed to a local martial arts gym based in Coventry. I personally found it difficult to really visualise my proposal and struggled to imagine it as a powerful, thought provoking and creative piece. Alex’s proposal however stirred a lot of ideas in me and I realised a lot more potential in it. It also helped that Alex is a family friend of Tim’s which meant it was likely a reliable project to follow through on.
From choosing to advance this idea we were tasked with creating a treatment and then a shooting script. I was satisfied with the end result and they really gave helped us to visualise the production and have a good sense of what to film when on set, especially as we would only be able to travel up to Yorkshire for a couple of days to film. This also gave us sufficient material to pitch the project and give others insight into the project.
There was only so much I could really plan however as I hadn’t been to the location and only heard about Tim from Alex so could only base his character on what he told me about him.
Our approach was that we were prepared to deviate from our shooting script (We made the shooting script to be vague/a basic guideline) when it came to filming, as we didn’t know for sure what Tim would say our how he would conduct himself during the interview, even though we prepared questions to prompt certain kinds of answers from him. If he revealed himself for example, to actually to be a shooter for sport and advocate of shooting (he is the kind of the opposite and we knew this prior) then it would take the narrative in a different direction meaning we would have to take it in that direction with the visuals to create a cohesive film. This of course would intrinsically force us to change a lot of creative decisions as the tone of the documentary as a whole would change.
Filming went according to plan and we managed to shoot the majority of our planned footage within a few hours, with our window of opportunity being limited to a days shooting. There was one element, however, that we were unable to catch which we had set out to and that was to capture a rabbit being killed on a ‘lamping’ hunt. We had always intended to start the film with this imagery as it would drive the subject matter across in a provoking way (especially the image of the corpse) and give a real account of the process being undertaken. We did indeed manage to capture footage of a ‘lamping’ hunt and Tim shooting a small rat, which actually delivered more or less the same effect despite not being exactly what was intended. Personally I believe there wasn’t too much more we could have improved on in terms of executing the shoot.
I believe as a whole the project went well as we executed our intended plan effectively and efficiently and delivered a good end result especially in terms of the technical aspects such as the sound quality/ design. My group all pulled in to put in the effort to make the project a success and each member took a fair workload, making us a cohesive team. The documentary could be improved in some aspects and we could have left more time for ourselves to refine it which may have ended with an even better result. However I am satisfied with the result nonetheless.